Support at Early Years (0 - 5 Years)

SEN in the Early Years

From birth to two

Children with more complex needs may be identified at birth. Parents’ early observations of their child are crucial and health assessments enable early identification of a range of medical and physical difficulties. Health services, including the family’s GP and health visitor, should work with the family to support them in understanding their child’s needs and to access additional support.

Some children need support for SEN and disabilities at home or in informal settings before, or as well as, the support they receive from an early years provider. Provision for children who need  such support should form part of the local joint commissioning arrangements and be included in the Local Offer which can be viewed at Portsmouth Local Offer.

Where a health body is of the opinion that a young child under compulsory school age has, or probably has, SEN, they must discuss it with the child’s parents and bring the child to the attention of the appropriate local authority. Parents should be informed of any voluntary organisations that are likely to be able to provide advice or assistance including educational advice and any intervention to be put in place before the child starts school.

This support can take a number of forms, including:

  • specialist support from health visitors, educational psychologists, speech and language therapists or specialist teachers, such as a teacher of the deaf or vision impaired. These specialists may visit families at home to provide practical support, answering questions and clarifying needs
  • training for parents in using early learning programmes to promote play, communication and language development
  • home-based programmes, such as Portage, which offer a carefully structured system to help parents support their child’s early learning and development

From September 2014, 2-year-olds for whom Disability Living Allowance is paid will be entitled to free early education.

Early years provision

The majority of 3- and 4-year-olds, and many younger children, attend some form of early years provision.

All early years providers in the maintained, private, voluntary and independent sectors that a local authority funds, are required to have arrangements in place to identify and support children with special educational needs (SEN) or disabilities and to promote equality of opportunity for children in their care.

These requirements are set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework. The EYFS is the statutory framework for children aged 0 to 5 years which sets the standards that all Ofsted-registered early years providers, and schools offering early years provision, must meet to ensure that children learn and develop well and are kept healthy and safe. All early years providers must follow the safeguarding, welfare, learning and development requirements of the EYFS framework, unless an exemption from these has been granted. Further detail can be found at EYFS Framework.

The EYFS framework also requires practitioners to provide ongoing assessment of children’s progress and a review of progress at two specific points, which are, when the child is aged two and when the child turns five. As part of the overall approach to monitoring the progress and development of all children, early years providers should have arrangements in place that include a clear approach to assessing SEN.

Practitioners must maintain a record of children under their care as required under the EYFS framework. These records must be available to parents and must include how the setting supports children with SEN and disabilities.

Practitioners assess the extent to which a young child is developing at expected levels for their age across the seven areas of learning:

  • communication and language
  • physical development
  • personal, social and emotional development
  • literacy
  • mathematics
  • understanding of the world
  • expressive arts and design

In addition to the EYFS, the ‘Early years outcomes’ is an aid for practitioners, including child minders, nurseries and others to help them to understand the outcomes they should be working towards. Further detail can be found at Early Years Outcomes.

Providers of early years education are also required to have regard to the SEND Code of Practice (0-25 years) which is a government document giving practical advice to Local Authorities, education settings and others on carrying out their statutory duties in regard to special educational needs and disabilities. 

The Code of Practice can be viewed at SEND Code of Practice

Progress check at age two

When a child is aged between two and three, early years practitioners must review progress and provide parents with a short written summary of their child’s development, focusing in particular on communication and language, physical development and personal, social and emotional development.

This progress check must identify the child’s strengths and any areas where the child’s progress is slower than expected. If there are significant emerging concerns (or identified SEN or disability) practitioners should develop a targeted plan to support the child, involving other professionals such as, for example, the setting’s SENCO or the Area SENCO, as appropriate.

The summary given to parents must

  • highlight areas where good progress is being made
  • highlight areas where some additional support might be needed
  • highlight where there is a concern that a child may have a developmental delay (which may indicate SEN or disability) 
  • describe the activities and strategies the provider intends to adopt to address any issues or concerns

Assessment at the end of the EYFS

The EYFS profile is usually completed for children in the final term of the year in which they turn five. The profile provides parents, practitioners and teachers with a well-rounded picture of a child’s knowledge, understanding and abilities. It is particularly for children with SEN and should inform plans for future learning and identify any additional needs for support.

Identifying needs in the early years

Where a child appears to be behind expected levels, or where a child’s progress gives cause for concern, practitioners should consider all the information about the child’s learning and development from within the setting, from formal checks, from practitioner observations, from any more detailed assessment of the child’s needs and any specialist advice which has been sought.

A delay in learning and development in the early years may or may not indicate that a child has SEN. All the information, including observations of parents, should be brought together and considered to inform decisions about whether or not a child has SEN.

Where a child has a significantly greater difficulty in learning, or a disability that requires special educational provision, the setting should make that provision.

Special educational provision should be matched to the child’s identified SEN. Children’s SEN are generally thought of in the following four broad areas of need and support:

  • communication and interaction
  • cognition and learning
  • social, emotional and mental health
  • sensory and/or physical needs

However, individual children often have needs that cut across all these areas and their needs may change over time.

SEN support in the early years

It is particularly important in the early years that there is no delay in making any necessary special educational provision. Delay at this stage may lead  to difficulties in learning and subsequent possible loss of self-esteem, frustration or behaviour difficulties. Early action to address identified needs is critical to the future progress and improved outcomes that are essential in helping the child to prepare for adult life.

Where a setting identifies a child as having SEN they must work in partnership with parents to establish the support the child needs.

Ordinarily Available Provision for Early Years in Portsmouth

Where a setting makes special educational provision for a child with SEN they should inform the parents and a maintained nursery school must inform the parents.

All settings should adopt a graduated approach to providing support which should be led and co-ordinated by the setting SENCO working with individual practitioners and informed by EYFS materials, the Early Years Outcomes guidance and Early Support resources.Support should be family centred and should consider the individual family’s needs and the best ways to support them. 

This graduated approach should have four stages of action: assess, plan, do and review.


In identifying a child as needing SEN support, the early years practitioner, working with the setting SENCO and the child’s parents, will have carried out an analysis of the child’s needs. This initial assessment should be reviewed regularly to ensure that support is matched to need.

Where there is little or no improvement in the child’s progress, more specialist assessment may be called for from specialist teachers or from health, social services or other agencies beyond the setting. Where professionals are not already working with the setting, the SENCO should contact them, with the parents’ agreement.

Where a child continues to make less than expected progress, despite evidence-based support and interventions that are matched to the child’s area of need, practitioners should consider involving appropriate specialists, for example, health visitors, speech and language therapists, Portage workers, educational psychologists or specialist teachers, who may be able to identify effective strategies, equipment, programmes or other interventions to enable the child to make progress towards the desired learning and development outcomes. The decision to involve specialists should be taken with the child’s parents.


Where it is decided to provide SEN support the practitioner and the SENCO should agree, in consultation with the parents, the outcomes they are seeking, the interventions and support to be put in place, the expected impact on progress, development or behaviour, and a clear date for review.

Plans should take into account the views of the child. The support and intervention provided should be selected to meet the outcomes identified for the child, based on reliable evidence of effectiveness, and provided by practitioners with relevant skills and knowledge. Any related staff development needs should be identified and addressed.

Parents should be involved in planning the support and, where appropriate, in reinforcing provision or contributing to progress at home.


The early years practitioner, usually the child’s key person, remains responsible for working with the child on a daily basis. With support from the SENCO, they should oversee the implementation of the interventions or programmes agreed as part of SEN support. The SENCO should support the practitioner in assessing the child’s response to the action taken, in problem solving and advising on the effective implementation of support.


The effectiveness of the support and its impact on the child’s progress should be reviewed in line with the agreed date. The impact and quality of the support should be evaluated by the practitioner and the SENCO working with the child’s parents and taking into account the child’s views. They should agree any changes to the outcomes and support for the child in light of the child’s progress and development. Parents should have clear information about the impact of the support provided and be involved in planning next steps.

This cycle of action should be revisited in increasing detail and with increasing frequency, to identify the best way of securing good progress. At each stage parents should be involved and contribute their insights to assessment and planning. Intended outcomes should be shared with parents and reviewed with them, along with action taken by the setting, at agreed times.

Further information on SEN support in Portsmouth can be found at Guidance and Forms.

Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment

Where, despite the setting having taken relevant and purposeful action to identify, assess and meet the special educational needs of the child, the child has not made expected progress, the setting should consider requesting an Education, Health and Care needs assessment.

This assessment and subsequent plan are explained at EHC Needs Assessment and EHC Plan.

Where a child has an EHC plan, the local authority must review that plan as a minimum every twelve months. As part of the review, the local authority can ask settings, and require maintained nursery schools, to convene and hold the annual review meeting on its behalf. 


SEN support should include planning and preparing for transition, before a child moves into another setting or school. This can also include a review of the SEN support being provided or the EHC plan. To support the transition, information should be shared by the current setting with the receiving setting or school. The current setting should agree with parents the information to be shared as part of this planning process.

Portsmouth SEND IASS can support families through this process.

Tel: 0300 303 2000

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